EDITORIAL: Council is smart on immigration

King County has joined the growing list of communities that are not waiting around for immigration reform to bring a bit of sanity into the fold. With its 5-4 vote on Nov. 2, the metropolitan council told Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and King County residents that the era of extended detention for those accused of minor crimes is over. This is good news on many fronts.

Immigrants, whether documented or not, often live with the fear that they — or someone they care about — will be deported. That fear spills over into other facets of everyday life. It could deter some people from reporting crimes or coming forth as witnesses, and fosters distrust of law enforcement officers among ethnic, refugee, and immigrant communities.

While rightly targeting undocumented violent criminals, ICE detainers or ‘holds’ can also trap those who are arrested for minor crimes into a deportation system that is costly to the taxpayers and disruptive to families. According to a 2013 report by University of Washington researchers Katherine Beckett and Heather Evans, ICE detainer requests “significantly extend jail stays, do not primarily target serious criminals, have a pronounced impact on the county’s Latino population, and consume significant government resources.”

The report also found that nearly two-thirds of the people flagged by ICE while in jail were not charged with a felony, and one in eight were not charged with any crime at all. What a mess.

Extra jail days from ICE detainers cost nearly $3 million per year, according to the report, and more than half of that would be saved by the county by denying the requests.

We want people to feel safe and be safe. We want the county to save money. We want the courts and jails to focus on serious crimes. We want immigrant families to stay together in their homes, jobs, schools and communities. When the people around us feel secure, then the greater society is secure. This legislation benefits everyone. Thanks to the council for a smart move. (end)

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